The Eurocult Film Thread

craner

Beast of Burden
Yes, you should! It's not easy to find, though. I know you don't live in the UK, but I got hold of this version, which is the best available, I gather. It was on my wish list for years, and then one day I saw it being sold for £15, figured I'd never see it that cheap ever again and pounced. It's usually around the £35 mark on Amazon.co.uk and it isn't even sold on .com. The UK site has a couple of good sellers now who specialise in Italian, German, French and Spanish imports, although it can be a bit tricky with language and subtitling options, of course.
 

rubberdingyrapids

Well-known member
not quite eurosploitation or as nuts as a lot of what ive seen mentioned in this thread so far, but are there any bigas luna fans on dissensus? i used to love golden balls and jamon jamon, though not seen them in years....
 

bruno

est malade
Yes, you should! It's not easy to find, though. I know you don't live in the UK, but I got hold of this version, which is the best available, I gather. It was on my wish list for years, and then one day I saw it being sold for £15, figured I'd never see it that cheap ever again and pounced. It's usually around the £35 mark on Amazon.co.uk and it isn't even sold on .com. The UK site has a couple of good sellers now who specialise in Italian, German, French and Spanish imports, although it can be a bit tricky with language and subtitling options, of course.
thank you.
 

bruno

est malade
i just had the weirdest lapse as i looked at the word thanks before posting. it's a very simple word, but i read it more than once and thought: what does this mean? it became completely alien to me. so i wrote thank you instead.
 

bruno

est malade
le orme is great, far more obscure than it deserves to be and sadly battered as well. this is a case where the source material for the transfer is not in the best of shape (and actually patched together from more than one source) and yet it could not be more stunning visually, any frame can be isolated and marveled at. this is not surprising considering that the director of photography is vittorio storaro of giornata nera, bird with crystal plumage, the conformist and last emperor fame.

the film itself is brisk and engaging. it takes place in the (mussolini-built) eur, rome, with a very severe, very stylish florinda bolkan doing translation work in vast, official-looking places, and in istanbul, with florinda losing her head in an oriental setting. also klaus kinski as a mad space mission commander (the only unconvincing/jarring aspect of the film, though a necessary device) and a psychedelic sequence near the end. as the germans would say, tip!
 

craner

Beast of Burden
That sounds amazing. I am addicted to Vittorio Storaro's work and I also love Florinda Bolkan and Klaus Kinski. How can I get hold of this one, Bruno?

Talking of Florinda, have you ever seen Metti, una sera a cena, the film with the Morricone soundtrack?
 

bruno

est malade
That sounds amazing. I am addicted to Vittorio Storaro's work and I also love Florinda Bolkan and Klaus Kinski. How can I get hold of this one, Bruno?
you can find it here, here and here. i think it's out of print as the company (shameless) lost their stock in that warehouse fire during the riots.

Talking of Florinda, have you ever seen Metti, una sera a cena, the film with the Morricone soundtrack?
i have not, duly noted. thanks.
 

craner

Beast of Burden
Oh my gosh, that's that! I have seen it for sale. I can't stand Shameless simply because of their appalling artwork, but I was working up the nerve to buy one of their DVDs, as they are the first to release a good print of Four Flies On Grey Velvet. And now, another reason. The other thing they have done is put out Don't Torture a Duckling with the Italian track and subtitles.

I really ought to get over my Shameless thing.
 

bruno

est malade
it turns out they did lose that stock, but it's not out print, see this. i suspect they were not as hard-hit as, say, warp, who lost all their uk stock, hundreds of releases, some with complex artwork using special inks or paper unlike the plastic case and thirty+ releases of shameless. and yes, they have no design taste.
 

craner

Beast of Burden


The Cursed Medallion, Massimo Dallamano

For all of its feints and affectations – and, no doubt, a bit of garish 1975 publicity – Massimo Dallamano’s Il medaglione insanguinto (The Cursed Medallion) does not turn into the brainless Exorcist swipe you are led to expect. It’s not even a Possession flick as such, although the evil, occult atmosphere is as thick as Mario Bava fog. There is a girl called Emily (played with eerie menace by Nicoletta Elmi, child star of Profondo Rosso and Bay of Blood) who is plagued by visions, or memories, of a medieval witch named Emilia, who was savagely executed by a mob in Spoleto. Also, her behaviour is becoming increasingly erratic and this may or may not having something to do with a big spooky silver medallion her father has given her.

Are Emily’s visions fantasy or projection, neurosis or reincarnation? What is the cause of her lethal outbursts – demonic possession or passionate jealousy? The Devil or Miss Joanna? Dallamano asks a lot of questions but doesn’t bother to answer any of them. He falls between Freud and The Other Side, or plays with both. His film, for that reason, could be empty, unfocused, a meagre meander, but it isn’t: it is allusive, chilly, absorbing and gorgeous to look at. Psychology and the occult create/offer overlapping tensions and suggestions: Tarot cards are as accurate and as misguided as clinical diagnosis. There are things left out, unsaid, unresolved. If at the end you think you have one answer, then other details and moments don’t make sense; you question your judgement, your ability to recollect. Dallamano’s art (here, anyway) is to spin a mystery out of confusion, conjure the uncanny out of chaos.

This is a technical feat, as much as anything; the trick works because it looks so good. Dallamano was one of the best cinematographers in 1970s Italy, a time and place stuffed with visual talent; he’d refined his craft shooting Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. Consequently, even when they are worthless, his films are stylistic events, from the zippy $$$-rich Alan Towers sexploitation flicks to the grim and sleazy poliziotteshi. So, of course, Medallion looks lush: rural Umbria postcard-perfect, resplendent on old Kodak film stock. It is practically colour-coded: foliage fully autumnal, a tumble of red, auburn, claret and bronze. Fire is the dominant element: from the fierce inferno that incinerates Emily’s mother to the ever-present burning candles in cold rooms or romantic restaurants.

Emily’s father, Michael (an art critic who is directing a BBC documentary called Diabolic Art in Spoleto, played with true genre stolidity by Richard Johnson) is surrounded by red heads who love him: his livid copper-top daughter; the dour and saintly nanny Jill (Ida Galli) with her dull-auburn helmet; and the American producer/love-interest Joanna (a glowing Joanna Cassidy) with her explosive ‘70s Henna locks. When Joanna is courting Michael she wears a cherry-red coat; their first love scene is replete with gleaming bottles of J&B and a red portable record player spinning Stelvio Cipriani (isn’t this the way to live?).

There are exceptions to the rosso drench: the one pivotal murder is a consummation not by flames, but bright blue water and raging white rapids. The colour red, and all of its various shades, evokes sex, in its mature, earthly, healthy flesh-and-blood reality (hello Joanna) and its perverse and lost aspects (hello Emily, Jill, and your lovely, dead wife, Michael). Every other colour links evil to innocence: for example, Emily’s steely blue eyes. This odd and obsessive symbolism is a Catholic madness, a furious debility Dallamano shares with contemporaries like Fulci and Bava. (Recall his best film, Cosa avete fatto a Solange? – a super-sleazy giallo that is, in the end, hung up on Catholic dogma and the ethics of abortion.)

Dallamano’s film resembles Pupi Avati’s masterpiece The House with Laughing Windows, with its unsettling rural location, its central and perverse painting, and the blur between sexual motivation and spectral agency. Like Windows, it unfolds through riddles that tend to be psychological rather than paranormal, but are inexact and not explicatory, and haunted by echoes and parallels. Dallamamo puts the full Oedipal triangle in the frame to give the thing a kick, a kink, a twist, but it explains nothing. There is a fine balance held between occult suggestion and sexual psychology that refuses to be resolved or unwound. This is, ultimately, a unifying feature of all the best Italian horror movies, from Windows to the films of Argento, Bava and Fulci. It gives their vision a vivid edge as well as an indistinct glow. The Cursed Medallion is a minor, fringe production, but it serves the tradition well.
 
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craner

Beast of Burden


Venus in Furs, Massimo Dallamano (1969)

I watched Dallamano’s Venus in Furs after enjoying The Cursed Medallion so much. Yes, it looks lovely; I don’t know where it was filmed, but I’m guessing the Amalfi coast or possibly Spain. Obviously, considering the source material, it’s a film about fetish, cruelty, domination and perverse sexuality but, in the early scenes at least, it delivers a thrilling evocation of the everyday foci of sexuality and its irredeemable, and natural, fix on things and parts. These ravishing opening shots and sequences play with the glance and its message and the thrill it can convey or the questions it contains. There are long and fleeting meditations on legs and nylon and these scenes are like a cinematic paean to this imperishable physical/aesthetic combination. All the colours are vivid and gorgeous: bright blues, hot reds, deep greens, sandy shades; the thing swirls with eye-popping late 60s Op/Pop chic.

Then the film drifts, and becomes boring and silly. This is largely to do with the inadequate and laughable reduction of Sachor-Masoch's ideas and work, a common fault with these Eurocult adaptations of the erotic classics. Jess Franco, for example, was forever mauling de Sade, and these films often dissolved into the realms of pantomime parlour games played by pretentious, boring, rich fools wandering around in big houses, on beaches, or along cliffs. The one unsettling exception is Eugenie de Sade, a film electrified by Soledad Miranda and crackling with perverse danger and fetishist charge. Without that frisson of danger and disgust, which the Pop Art fun and vulgarity of most Franco and this Dallamano by definition dispels (in some ways, in their favour), the sexual conceit is simply absurd and comical. Much as these sex games (or “relations”) are, anyway, and you can blame Masoch and Sade, as much as Dallamano and Franco, for that. There is one really startling moment in Venus, during Wanda and Severin's first row, when Wanda says, "frankly, I'm starting to find this whole thing ridiculous." Which it is: the high sexual politics and poetic pretensions all, in the end, reduce to play-acting and rutting. These people are ridiculous and dull, Dallamano suggests, and at least one of them knows it. Also, this kind of kinky sex is a boring thing to watch. Legs and nylon, eyes and lips, are not -- and this is where the visual energy and imagination is located.

Furthermore, Laura Antonelli and Régis Vallée are so ordinary and pedestrian in their roles that it feels like watching shop assistants on holiday rather than sexual aristocrats living out a fantasy. Antonelli, I know, was a big Italian screen siren, forever throwing her kit off, and she is pretty and coquettish in the film – but somehow, I feel, Wanda needs to be a bit more wild and vivid: freezing and statuesque, perhaps, or full-blooded, thick-lipped, Amazonian. Same with Vallee as Severin: he’s pathetic enough, for sure, but is he strange enough? Why does he sound so thick? Should his suffering look this abject and empty? Maybe a pairing of Klaus Kinski and Rosalba Neri would’ve invigorated this film, unlocked whatever potential it had. As it is, as events intensify, and the violence and cruelty kicks in, the film descends into farce and irrelevance. I didn’t exactly expect – or want – some Deleuzian exploration of Masochian complexity, but something more than the portrait of a Peeping Tom who wants to be whipped is surely required.

I should mention that this film was funded and produced by Harry Alan Towers, who picked Dallamano as his director of choice after falling out with Franco during the infamous Spanish “blue period.”

That’s all.
 
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craner

Beast of Burden


L'Orme (Luigi Bazzoni, 1975)

Colour can be used as a language. Unfortunately, today newer filmmakers seem to prefer to tell the audience exactly what’s going on and what everything is about instead of using colour, production design, music, actors’ body language, and camera angles to communicate.
Vittorio Storaro

All sensation is already memory.
Henri Bergson

Luigi Bazzoni’s L’Orme is an opaque oddity; dreamy, dilatory, and yet shot with dynamic precision by Vittorio Storaro (the eye behind The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now). It is all about big things, like memory, madness, dissolution, identity, existence, reality, but it does not fix or pronounce on any of them. It is not wrapped up in plot or exposition, but unfolds through thin and fragmentary threads, visual clues and tricks, echoes and overlaps. You are not being told anything, as such, or even being given a riddle to solve; instead, you’re presented with moods: disorientation, inexplicable unease, melancholia, pity, alienation, and so forth.

Alice Cespi (Florinda Bolkan) wakes up one morning and has lost three working days; as a consequence, she is suspended from her job as a translator at a scientific academy. Left in Rome, alone with her shattered, shuttered life, she reconstructs missing time: from torn postcards and bits of music, a sedate yellow dress and a florid red wig. Bolkan, that upper class Brazilian bohemian in Italian exile, is superb (of course, as ever, etc.): Alice’s tension and melancholia reinforced by her severe hairstyle and minimalist wardrobe. She languishes in immaculate isolation, framed by Storaro’s vast, stark visual compositions.

Unable to communicate or share with others, on a steady diet of tranquilizers, she avoids everybody except for her psychiatrist and work colleagues. Stuck in stasis and drift, she paces her bare, white apartment, slowly smoking Dunhill cigarettes and sipping espresso, over-looking the dusty concrete and motionless cranes of 1970s Rome. The flat is sparse, without paintings on walls, books on shelves, magazines lying around; her existence is devoid of personal touches, of personality, of a person. The job she does, she detests: rendering other people’s words in an alien language reinforces her disconnection from the immediate world. A phone rings, and there is nobody on the other end of the line, so she puts it back down again, like a Helmut Newton dream of motion.

Storaro and Bazzoni render Alice’s existential condition in visual longueurs and slow, low panning shots; stark silhouettes and sharp angles of light; with precise, deliberate pace and discordant, convoluted edits. Rome is austere and intimidating and grand as the camera cuts straight lines across Mussolini-era edifices and post-war International Style blocks, putting her in pitiless perspective. When the film shifts to Turkey, the scenery is transformed but the atmosphere and style does not change. Baroque and Art Nouveau interiors mix with Islamic minarets and crumbling medieval alleys. The shots and angles remain austere; the space is internalised, as the coast and the city open up lonely, depopulated vistas, an Ottoman Arabesque that melts into limpid, languid seascapes.

She is haunted by dreams/flashbacks of a science fiction movie she watched called (she says, she thinks) Footprints on the Moon. In her version she is abandoned by a space probe: over the opening credits, she watches in panic, asphyxiating, as it drifts away, into space, going home. Later, she fixes on footprints in moon-dust, the traces and clues of an abandoned course, a lost route, a forgotten way forward. Outer space is conflated with inner space, a deeper, larger landscape: it is more interesting and there is lots of it.

This is, to a degree, a hollow exploration, hyper-stylized existentialism, but it is tighter and more engaging (by dis-engaging) than, say, Robbe-Grillet or Tarkovsky or some other ponderous shit, because it moves with brisk genre pace and is allowed the luxury of giallo illogic. The effect is poetic and exploratory, disorientating and seductive, having been set free from theory, narrative, resolution, exposition. You a propelled with (but not by) Alice through a vague maze of detail, looking for truth and trying to touch reality, but as she remembers names and details, and the fragments are assembled, reality (and sanity) begins to fall apart. It ends in rapture and rupture and brutality and cheap surrealism that simply reinforces the final themes: the fragility of identity and the splintering of truth and reality.
 
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craner

Beast of Burden


The Sewer Rats (Robert Bianchi Montero, 1974)

If ever a film deserved to disappear, this one did. It has the feel of a Spaghetti Western in the malignant mould of Django, Kill! or Cut Throats Nine but none of the necessary trappings, as if there was no money for period costumes and props or nobody involved could be bothered to go and fetch them. So, it turned into an ersatz Straw Dogs, or a grotty update of Bad Day at Black Rock, instead.

This was the idea of Peplum beefcake Richard Harrison, a Hollywood reject who languished in Italian genre obscurity after rejecting Clint Eastwood’s role in A Fistful of Dollars (he later described this catastrophic miscalculation as his one great contribution to cinema). As a self-propelled project, Sewer Rats is baffling: hardly flattering or career-enhancing, it revels in its lack of resources, lax squalor, casual violence and endemic grime. Harrison is cast as ‘The Cripple’, an enigmatic wanderer with a lame leg and a faltering VW, forced to take shelter in an ex-mining town populated by a small group of sadists, perverts, thieves and cynics. This is not auspicious – or accidental. The town is defunct, largely abandoned, with a sinister sense of sexual malevolence and moral and physical pollution. A series of scrapes and scraps and rapes all lead to an inevitable and explosive dénouement that, somehow, lacks the pathos and drama evidently intended, but not the cynicism or the sleaze.

This pit of mud and sin is blessed with Rita, a J&B-swigging nymphomaniac played by the divine Dagmar Lassander. By this point Dagmar had lost her late ‘60s groove (Hatchet for a Honeymoon, Femina Ridens, Photographs of a Lady above Suspicion), and as the ‘70s wore on, the roles got smaller (Emanuelle Nero 2) and stupider (Werewolf Woman) and sleazier (So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious). Her look and persona changed drastically, from fresh and curvaceous, strawberry-blonde debutant to ruby-lipped, Henna-dyed, diamond-studded, jaded Milano moll. This happened in less than five years. She was having fun, apparently, but hedonism extracted a certain price: growing hardness of features, character loss to gloss and lire, innocent energy replaced by dead-eyed, routine resilience. Acting the tramp, sowing mayhem and discord among misfits and murderers, a lone white trash cock-tease in an isolated, dangerous dive, this was a simple excursion for her, a cheque she probably enjoyed earning.

The film was released in Italian cinemas on June 5th. Days earlier, a bomb exploded in Brescia, killing eight people and inflicting significant casualties. It had been planted by far right provocateurs belonging to Ordine Nuovo, a mystical, SS-styled terrorist sect; a couple of weeks later, the Red Brigades assassinated two members of Italy’s largest neo-fascist party, Movimento Sociale Italiano. There was no normality or moderation to Italian politics in 1974. Pocked with city states and divided by regional discord, subject to Soviet and US intrigue, stuck between Tito’s Yugoslavia and the fascist regimes in Spain, Portugal and Greece, the peninsula was tense, fragile, and paranoid. Italians were braced for a military coup and primed for revolutionary violence. On top of this, Italy’s social and moral texture had been torn apart, as sex and drugs, pop culture and mass consumption collided with the malign, festering, parochial power of the Church. In response to social and political combustion – or just to keep up, to retain interest and profits – movie producers and projectors poured out cheap films stuffed with obscenity, gore, vigilante justice, atrocity and perversion. It was a good time to be creative.

Sewer Rats itself displays no art or pace or skill or any discernable cinematic qualities, but still retains the accidental, odd power bestowed by time and place. It reflects something of the society it was designed to serve: violent chauvinism and casual misogyny; paranoia and parochialism; conspiratorial occlusion and endemic corruption. The tension lingers, with every scene on the edge of either sex or slaughter. This abject piece of trash is a part of the implosion of tradition and order, fuelled by the intrigue and transgression and violent carnality that underscored everything. It is a worthless product that bears specifically Italian scars.
 

craner

Beast of Burden


Lady of the Lake (Luigi Bazzoni, 1965)

Lady of the Lake, Luigi Bazzoni’s mid-sixties debut, is like a rough sketch for his final film, the tender and obtuse Le Orme. It shares the ellipses and eruptions: the shadows and fissures of local (small-town/ex-pat) betrayal and breakage. They are, both, fractured little tales of lost (or imagined) connections and encounters – the trail of lonely people led by indefinite and fantastic delusions to terminal locales.

They start with empty subjects, hollow lives: a writer who takes holidays out of season and doesn’t like his own books (Lady’s Bernard, played by Peter Baldwin); a mentally fragile, emotionally blank translator, whose stark white apartment symbolises her own internal void (Alice Cespi, Le Orme). Bernard returns to his familiar haunt, an off-season lake-side resort town, drawn by a local hotel maid with whom he enjoyed a tantalising fling during his previous visit. “I am empty inside,” he intones to some city chick he ditches from a phone box in the opening frames of the film, while fiddling with the tatty snaps of this adored and fleeting flame.

The maid herself, a sly Continental Marilyn called Tilda (Virna Lisa), hardly appears in the film beyond a white-hot blur of erotic close-ups and cross-cuts consigned to memory and fantasy. By the time Bernard returns to town, with a jaunty Gallic spring in his step, she has been murdered – poisoned, stabbed and dumped in the lake. All that remains of her is a sexual phantom, yearned for and dreaded: her death hides explosive secrets capable of undoing the entire town, as well as Bernard’s own sense of ease and entitlement.

Lady slowly unwinds a terrible conspiracy that consumes everything in the vicinity. Nobody will talk about Tilda’s death, but it is the only thing to talk about. In the hotel where she worked and Bernard always stays (and remembers from childhood, like Alice and the hotel in Garma), Tilda was almost a member of the family — like a daughter, a sister, a niece: everybody’s sweetheart. Destroyed while pregnant, her brutal end and its unanswered questions unhinges everything: business, morality, sanity, trust, family ties. This unravelling has the same effect on Bernard as Alice’s own slow dissolution, and similar visual tricks and physical phantasms abound.

Both films are optically precise, but psychologically inexact. Le Orme plays tricks on perception and expectation, providing empty clues and obscuring crucial codes, but also using alleys and islands, architecture and décor to establish a disorientating and subversive visual landscape and atmosphere. Lady tries something similar with simple techniques that are crude but also elegant. Reflections in shop windows and darkroom projections obscure reality, a physical replication of Bernard’s desperation and confusion and of others in the town – out of the loop, troubled by truth, and afraid. Cut-up erotic tableaux contain several worlds of desire, regret, envy, rage, fear, love and loathing — simply by lingering on bare shoulders, or a mass of cascading Monroe locks, or the luxurious and stark foci of lip-stick and mascara. The contrast of impressionist winter landscapes (a woodland graveyard drenched in snow) and jarring expressionist imagery (an abattoir adjoined to a hotel) undermine the out-of-season repose. Even the soundtrack which, like Le Orme, uses simple silence to startling effect, or replaces the sound of desire with eerie bird cries (hawks and herons), manages to disturb rather than affirm the calm spell.

This is all in the service of secrets, uncovered by spectators and actors, like Bernard and his hunchbacked friend Mario who owns a photography shop and pieces together several possible stories from negatives and portraits, café rumours and saloon slander. Placid but frosty, picturesque but tense, the lake-side town hides a history of sex, corruption, lies and violence, finally embodied by Tilda’s corpse. The interior of an old (resolutely un-modernised) hotel and elegant and the empty streets and alleys circumscribe and frame the unravelling and resolution of Lady, as they do Le Orme. Within these close physical limits, everything breaks apart.

There is a stylistic divide between the Nouvelle Vague blur and blanch of Lady and the Technicolor Storaro thrust and grandeur of Le Orme that is a matter of technique and timing and time — but they are more united, than divided. Bazzoni’s first and final films, and their central protagonists, flow into each other. Both deal with words (a writer and a translator) but are assaulted by visuals: pictures, buildings, unreadable events, fragments, actions, dreams, and memories. They are, together, dream-pictures: chilly, fluid, hazy, sensuous. But they are, also, stark and empty: at each centre is a whole, a lack.

Bernard and Alice have no family and seem to come from nowhere. Their memories are fragmentary or invented; we never know which, but neither do they. They are surrounded by other families in the nowhere places they return to – but these dislocated, alienated units offer nothing but an uncertain threat, only secrecy and menace. Lady’s basic plot splits a family apart in a catastrophic manner that destroys the moral centre of an entire town; the family bond is erased from Le Orme, or exists as mockery, perversion, hostility, emptiness. Sex is something separate, secluded and damaging: for Bernard and Alice an obsession or activity seen or spied or remembered, but not something that happens, barely a personal experience. Hard to watch, or recollect, by everyone around – and by us.

Bazzoni released this film in 1965, the year following Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, the same year as Polanski’s Repulsion and four years after Resnais’ Last Year At Marienbad — all films with some emotional and stylistic bearing on Lady. His talented co-conspirators Franco Rossellini and Gulio Questi (Django, Kill!, Death Laid an Egg) helped create a low-key and experimental dream-noir that dragged disparate techniques from the European avant-garde and dumped them in the pulp environs of a murder mystery. In these hands and through these eyes, the urban thriller becomes dilatory, diffuse, and poetic: even Bava did not do this. It would be fifteen years before Bazzoni tried it again, turning the by-then established giallo formula inside out by deploying Storaro’s immaculate visual reach and Balkan’s icy existential hauteur. A logic-shredder, a dream journey man, an aesthetic engineer with a lot of talented friends – Luigi is the epitome of the low-key Italian hack as artiste.
 
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